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Modest Mouse - 'Good News For People Who Like Bad News'
(Tuesday July 27, 2004 5:22 PM )

Released on 19/07/04
Label: Epic Records

Stop me if it all sounds a bit familiar: left-field US psychedelic band/institution, specialising in daft song titles and led by an eccentric 30-something, find sudden and unlikely mainstream acceptance after a decade at the underground coalface. OK, so Modest Mouse have been around a whole ten years less than The Flaming Lips, but the parallels are still undeniable. They even sound like The Lips on occasion - to the extent that Wayne Coyne and co even guest on the closing track here.

Of course, having existed on the peripheries for around 15 years was a factor that ultimately worked in The Lips' favour. Having struggled for so long, their bullsh*t detectors were well honed and they weren't ones to be enthralled by the childish demands of playing rock'n'roll (ask Beck). Consequently, they had the experience to tackle life and death issues with ease - whether celebrating the brevity of existence or giving props to the scientists who race for the prize of finding cures for deadly diseases.

These, they seemed to infer, are the real issues and the real heroes. That Britney Spears got married this week or Pete Doherty is playing a secret 'gig' in his bedroom is, in the grand scheme of things, not very important. It's the big stuff that matters.

And, just as this was perfectly encapsulated by "Do You Realize??", so Modest Mouse capture the self same sense of wonder with their own "Float On". Ostensibly a song that says 'always look on the bright side of life' ("I backed my car into a cop car the other day. Well he just drove off, sometimes life's ok") it's hewn of the self-same life-affirming qualities, albeit in the manner of early Talking Heads. You can certainly envisage a festival crowd singing it in unison.

However, where The Lips are mostly melancholic - saving their humour for their outrageous live shows - the Mouse often veer towards clownishness. This means an unfortunate tendency to sound like mid-period Violent Femmes or - worse - late-period B52's. Isaac Brock's vocals are also sometimes painfully reminiscent of They Might Be Giants or even (gulps in horror) The Presidents Of The United States Of America.

This is a shame as there are genuinely heart-stopping moments on this album, not least opening track, "The World At Large", which tones down the wackiness and gracefully skates around a combination of gently-picked arpeggios and lush strings. Among the surfeit of folkie fiddling and studied weirdness, "Blame It On The Tetons" is another highlight, which, despite its title, is a well-observed attack on vacuous modern life.

"The Good Times Are Killing Me" The Lips collaboration) is also great. A paean to the downside of rock'n'roll excess ("Fed up with all the LSD. Need more sleep than coke or methamphetamines") it concludes as a fireside singalong with the production hand of David Fridmann being more than apparent.

At these transcending moments, "Good News...". is elevated into excellence. But overall, there is too much Mouse that bores and not enough Mouse that roars. Until next time then, I guess we'll all float on OK…

    by Adam Webb

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